There are two ways to remove a band-aid; you can pull it off slowly, bit by tortuous bit, which prolongs the agony, or you can yank it off with one sudden pull, which may hurt a bit more, but only for a second. DeKalb County Schools is in desperate need of a leader with the courage to yank a band-aid, and fast. The State Board of Education will hold a hearing on the DeKalb School Board today, and afterwards make a recommendation to the Governor about what to do next with the 9 clowns in one small car that is the DeKalb County Board of Education. Pay close attention to this meeting and the subsequent actions by the State BOE and the Governor, because what’s at stake it’s not just DeKalb County’s future, or the future of ~100,000 DeKalb school kids. What’s at stake is Georgia’s ability to deal with systemic problems in its educational system, and a real measure of Governor Deal’s leadership.
It may seem unfair to to charge the Governor with responsibility for DeKalb County’s educational debacle -he didn’t cause any of them. In fact, most of the worst ones predate his election as Governor. But as Georgia’s Governor, Nathan Deal is the only person with sufficient authority to take decisive action and begin the process of fixing what’s broken with the 3rd largest school system in the state. And what’s broken, exactly? The former superintendent is currently facing trial on conspiracy charges, along with the former construction program manager; the system is also paying legal fees to defend him, but not her. The system has also been paying millions in legal fees in a high-stakes gamble to get construction giant Heery International to settle a lawsuit related to the criminal suit, but DeKalb’s Judge Clarence Seeliger has refused to set a trial date in that case for nearly half a decade. The District Attorney currently has two inquiries into possible criminal activities by school administrators. Principals have used school funds to buy books they had written. A deadbeat school board member sees nothing wrong with selling $20,000 worth of pizza from his restaurant to the school system he’s supposed to be responsible for. A former school board member threatened to “slug” a reporter asking questions about how her relatives got jobs with the school system. And how can we forget the shameful public episode called “redistricting” from last year?
Accreditation agency SACS warned DeKalb 2 years ago (pdf) to straighten up, but they didn’t. SACS put them on accreditation probation last month, and issued a damning report about the utter dysfunctionality of Board, which cited such things as millions of dollars borrowed for textbooks that no one can find, using some of those borrowed millions to pay legal fees instead of buying textbooks and direct meddling by not only incumbent board members but by Board members-elect, who had not even been sworn in yet! Just yesterday (yesterday!) Ty Tagami reported that a consultant named Ralph Taylor, who had been hired to “analyze [DeKalb Schools'] alternative education program copied more than a third of his report from scholarly publications posted on the Internet…” After completing his plagiarism, Mr. Taylor was hired as “Associate Superintendent for Support Services” at $117,461 per year. If you think his job might possibly be at risk because he got it through plagiarism, you’re wrong. “School Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson said Taylor’s job is safe. “The infraction pertains to his work as a consultant, not as an employee…” Again, this was just yesterday, and, sadly, I am not making this up.
Maureen Downey posed the question in her “Get Schooled” blog at the AJC yesterday: “What would you the tell the State Board [of Education]… about the performance of the DeKalb school board?” The letter that prompted Ms. Downey, and the comments that follow, are worth reading -most call for removal of all 9 Board members. So does a petition started by a parent. And so does an identical petition, started by a student at DeKalb’s Lakeside High School. (A student!)
The list of “what’s broken” is virtually endless, and pointless, because the taxpaying public, and the parents of DeKalb students (and I am a member of both groups) have lost all faith and trust in the system. DeKalb now serves only as a cautionary tale for the rest of Georgia, because everything that could go wrong with our State’s current system of public, K-12 education has gone wrong in DeKalb. Every. Single. Thing. And the time to fix it is now.
DeKalb Schools are a nearly a billion dollars worth of cronyism, nepotism, dysfunction and failure. And the DeKalb School System, to paraphrase Matthew 7:5, are a plank in Georgia’s eye. Other problems -funding mechanisms, budget cuts, teacher pay, etc.- are just bits of dust. Will the governor remove the board, and begin the process of fixing the most visible failure in Georgia?
Because if he can’t be trusted to fix the most obvious problem, how can we trust him on anything else?